‘Vatican Girl: The Disappearance Of Emanuela Orlandi’ Explained: Who Was Responsible For The Disappearance?


Even after 37 years, no one knows what happened to Emanuela Orlandi. Netflix’s documentary series “Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi” tries to bring together various possible theories around the reason why Emanuela Orlandi went missing on June 22, 1983. On a sultry summer afternoon, Emanuela left her home to attend Tommaso Ludovico Da Victoria School music class. Her elder brother, Pietro Orlandi, remembers how she was late for class that day and had asked him to accompany her, but Pietro refused to do so. To this day, he regrets not taking Emanuela to her class. On the night of June 22, Emanuela went missing, and the family started receiving strange calls. Some indicate an international conspiracy, whereas others believe it is the Vatican’s holding on to secrets that resulted in Emanuela’s disappearance. What happened to Emanuela is not yet known for sure, but what we do know is that the 15-year-old was used as a pawn by the big players.

What Happens In ‘Vatican Girl: The Disappearance Of Emanuela Orlandi’?

The Orlandi family lived in Vatican City, a state ruled by the Pope. Her father worked for the Vatican administration. On June 22, 1983, Emanuela went to attend her music lesson. She later called her mother and informed her that she had been approached by an Avon representative who wanted her to join the cosmetic business. Her sister advised her to return home and discuss it with her parents. Emanuela was supposed to return home with her sister, but she never turned up. Even though her parents wanted to file a complaint that night, the police believed it was not too early to declare Emanuela missing. When she did not return home the next day, a missing complaint was lodged. The family published a missing report in a newspaper and added their home phone number as well. From then on, they received several phone calls. Most were false, but there was one call that was significant. The caller introduced himself as Pierluigi. He stated that he had met a girl named “Barbara” near the music school selling Avon cosmetics. A second caller introduced himself as Mario and stated that he had met a girl named “Barbarella” or “Barbara” who was selling Avon products, and she belonged to a group that sold cosmetics and clothes. He added that the girl regretted not performing at her school function. This was important because Emanuela was supposed to perform at a school function during that time.

The family pasted missing posters of Emanuela all across Vatican City. When the Pope addressed the Orlandi family, extending his support and condemning those involved in the kidnapping grabbed the attention of international news agencies. The Pope’s message seemed cryptic; the fact that he was sure that Emanuela was kidnapped was strange, and in his address, he requested those involved to return her, further indicating that he might have known the ones involved in the crime. After the Pope’s address, the family received another phone call from a man who called himself “The American.” The American played a tape recording of Emanuela. The family knew it was her voice. The man added that the other two men, Pierluigi and Mario, were part of his team. The team demanded that the Italian authorities free Mehmet Ali Acga, and if they failed to do so by July 20, then they would kill Emanuela.

In May 1981, Mehmet Ali Acga shot the Pope in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. After his arrest, he was identified as a member of Grey Wolves, a far-right ultranationalist Turkish group responsible for many terrorist attacks. The fact that Emanuela was kidnapped to free Mehmet Ali Acga became sensational news that the media from far and wide wanted to cover. While the phone callers demanded the release of Acga, Mehmet Ali Acga condemned the kidnapping. After his arrest, he started talking to the police and disclosed vital information. He stated that he was not a part of the Grey Wolves; he was trained by the KGB, the Soviet Union Secret Service. It was not shocking that the Soviet Union would want the Pope dead because Pope John Paul II was Polish and was a tremendous challenge to the Soviet Union. Now that Mehmet Ali Acga had started speaking, the Soviets wanted him returned so that they could deal with him the way they saw fit. Even though July 20 had gone by, and Mehmet Ali Acga had not returned, there was no news of Emanuela. A high-ranking officer from the Italian Secret Service confirmed that the way the kidnapping was handled did not seem to be the work of the KGB. The kidnappers had no strategy; the terrorism was simply a decoy to hide a secret that had occurred within the walls of Vatican City.

Conspiracy 1: Involvement Of Enrico De Pedis And The Mafia

A new witness emerged in 2004, asking the state news channel to dig into Enrico De Pedis and the favor Renatino did for Cardinal Polleti. Enrico De Pedis was a popular gangster and the boss of the Banda Della Magliana. Since Enrico passed away in 1990, his girlfriend, Sabrina Minardi, was the only one to know what had happened to Emanuela. Sabrina Minardi remembered Emanuela Orlandi. She saw her seated in a dark BMW. Enrico De Pedis asked Sabrina to take Emanuela to her house in Torvaianica for a few days. Emanuela was kept in that house for ten days. She was mostly drugged during that time. Sabrina remembered how she moaned and cried out of pain. Sabrina was asked to drop Emanuela off at the Vatican petrol pump. She noticed a black Mercedes with a Vatican number plate there. A priest or someone dressed as a priest got down from the car. Sabrina helped him to place Emanuela in his car. The man left with Emanuela, and Sabrina returned. When she asked Enrico what it was all about, he replied that it had all to do with power.

Another head of Banda Della Magliana, Maurizo Abbatino, stated that during his incarceration he was notified about the Emanuela Orlandi case. He stated that it was all about money. The Mafia had given money to De Pedis, which ended up in Vatican banks and was not paid back. He believed that Enrico could have been the middleman. The money went to shell companies from the Vatican bank, and after laundering, it was returned to the Vatican bank. It was transferred from the Vatican bank to Bank Ambrosiano and then the Mafia with profit. This chain was broken when the Bank of Ambrosiano suffered an immense loss, and the owner of the bank, Roberto Calvi, was murdered by the Mafia. The kidnapping of Emanuela Orlandi seemed to be a way for the Mafia to send across a message to the Vatican, that is, to give back their money.

Conspiracy 2: Involvement Of Marco Acceti

Marco Acceti stated that he was “the American” and he had planned the “creative aspects” of the kidnapping of Emanuela Orlandi. He stated that they deceived Emanuela by informing her that her father was in danger, and he could lose his job and house if she did not cooperate. He kept her at a low-cost women’s lodging, and they went out for walks during the first and second nights of the kidnapping. According to Marco Acceti, Emanuela was kidnapped by the members of the Vatican. It was an organization of priests who functioned secretly. The group did not believe in the Pope’s method of dealing with the East; they rather believed that only dialogue could help in spreading Catholicism in Russia.

Marco Acceti stated that the kidnapping of Mirella Gregori was also carried out by him. Mirella Gregori was kidnapped after she left her house to respond to a doorbell. The strategy was to kidnap one girl from the Italian province and one from the Vatican province to pressurize the Italian authorities and the Vatican to cooperate. But when they did not get the desired response, it came to an end. The last time that Marco saw Emanuela, she was alive.

Marco Acceti’s account is disputable. There were details that he did not know, even though he claimed to be “the American.” It seemed that he had learned all the information from television and found a way to place himself in the case. According to Marco Acceti’s psychiatric report, he was accused of autocalunnia. It meant that Acceti was lying about his involvement to deceive the judge. Marco Acceti had a criminal past; he was in a relationship with a 17-year-old girl and was convicted of the manslaughter of a 12-year-old child. By claiming to be “the American,” Marco Acceti was able to be the center of attention, something that he always craved. After the creators conducted a voice test of Acceti and the tape recordings of “the American,” it was concluded that the first few recordings did not match Acceti’s voice, but the later ones did. Indicating that Acceti was obsessed with the case and started to pretend to be “the American.” From the telephone calls, it did seem that the second American had real knowledge of the Mirella Gregori case. Therefore, Acceti might not have been involved in Emanuela’s case, but he surely played a role in Mirella Gregori’s case.

‘Vatican Girl: The Disappearance Of Emanuela Orlandi’ Explained: Who Was Responsible For The Disappearance?

After 37 years, Emanuela’s school friend disclosed a secret that helped in understanding the real reason behind Emanuela’s disappearance. Days before her disappearance, Emanuela had called her friend and stated that she had something important to discuss. After meeting Emanuela, her friend learned that when she had gone for a walk in the Vatican Garden, she was sexually harassed by a member of the Vatican, someone who held an important position and was close to the Pope. It seems that the Mafia might have known this secret, and they used it to blackmail the Vatican. The investigative journalist, Emiliano Fittipaldi, had been investigating the Vatican for years. During the course, he learned from a priest that someone had broken into the Vatican and stolen important files kept in a safe. Some of the many documents stolen were returned, and among all the files was a secret dossier on Emanuela Orlandi. This was crucial because the documents indicated that the Vatican knew about what had happened to Orlandi yet chose to keep it secret for 30 years.

Fittipaldi was handed a photocopy of a cover letter from a heavier dossier, dated March 1998, that listed the expenses sustained by the Vatican State for the activities related to Emanuela Orlandi. The document states the amount covered by the Vatican for food, medical expenses, accommodation, fees, and travel. The money wasn’t spent in Vatican City but in London, England. The Vatican had been carrying the expenses from 1983 to 1997. The boarding location indicated that it was a youth hostel for girls owned by the Scalabrini Fathers, a Catholic congregation with a strong connection with the Vatican. Therefore, Emanuela was kidnapped by De Pedris, handed over to a priest by Minardi, and then taken from the Vatican to London. The final expense noted was related to transferring her back to Vatican City with the final paperwork. This clarified that perhaps Emanuela had died in London, and her body was returned to Vatican City to be buried where she was born. The Vatican had not cooperated with the Orlandi family from the very beginning, and the more witnesses came forward, the more it seemed that the Vatican had a huge role to play in the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi. She knew a secret that could result in a scandal, and that knowledge was used as leverage, which was the reason Emanuela was kidnapped. Since Emanuela belonged to a conservative Catholic family, she never dared to share her secret with anyone. Perhaps she knew that no one would believe her, or she would be silenced sooner or later.

No one knows if Emanuela is alive or dead. It can be concluded that the church chose its power over the life of an innocent girl. She had seen and known too much to be sent back home. It has been 37 years. Many of the people involved in the case have died, and others are too old. The Orlandi family only hopes that the Vatican comes forward with the truth. Even if she has passed away, the family deserves to pay their respects to Emanuela’s memory, and they hope that at least her body is returned to them. “Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi” is another attempt to try and understand what happened to the girl who left her home to attend a music class and never returned. The docu-series is a plea to those with knowledge of the case to come forward.

 “Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi” is a 2022 Documentary series directed by streaming on Netflix.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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